Social Work and Welfare in the
1920s
Historical Background
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Americans in WW I from July 1917 until
end in November 1918
4.8 million soldiers mobilized, 117, 000
killed and 204,000 wounded
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KKK founded in 1915 with 4.5 million
members in mid 20s
1919 Constitutional amendment requiring
prohibition ratified
1920 Constitutional amendment allowing
women to vote ratified
Consumer and Business Culture
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Buy, buy, buy – rise of advertising
Speculation on the stock market
Stock prices went up tremendously during
the 1920s
Lots of people were getting rich based on
the value of their stocks and bonds
Social Work Retreated from
Social Reform
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Moved to consideration of ego strengths
and weaknesses
Casework became dominant
Mary Richmond wrote Social Diagnosis
(1917)
Focus on investigation of individuals’
problems
Based on medical model
Trattner’s Comments on Social
Diagnosis
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Not influenced by Freud
Richmond believe casework was related to
research and reform, but thought reform had
failed
She believed treatment was as important as
diagnosis
Social Diagnosis Response to
Abraham Flexner
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Speech at 1915 National Conference said
social work not yet a profession
Response was that a technique was
necessary
“diagnosis” seemed professional
Caseworkers employed by American Red
Cross helped non-poor as well as poor
Smith College
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Established psychiatric social work to work
with mental patients
Psychoanalysis becoming popularized in
1920s
Freudian ideas gave theoretical base and
scientific method
Childhood experiences and emotions shape
personality and behavior of adults
Changed from Charity to Poor to
Therapy
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Maladjustment problem with upper classes
as well
Increased status of profession
Reduced reform and humanitarian thrust
Poor seen as responsible for problems in
“roaring 20s”
Importance of Agency Admin and
Fund Raising
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War chests developed to community chests
Federated funding - forerunner to United
Way
Institutionalized anti-reform sentiments
In the prosperity decade, many thought
social reform was unnecessary
Social Work’s Themes in the 20s
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Professionalism
Psychiatry
Psychoanalysis
Also beginning to see family counseling,
habit clinics, child guidance, adjustment
problems
Psychiatric social worker the ideal
Social Work Education

Included Freudian concepts such as defense
mechanisms, transference, ego strengths, Oedipus
complex
 Focus was on helping clients become adjusted to
their environments, NOT on reforming ills of
society
 Also it seemed like social workers were junior
psychiatrists, not professionals on their own
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16 Social Work and Welfare in the 1920s Trattner 12